Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. thanks the Lord for NBA debut, but wanted a win

With a team-high 15 points in 21 minutes of action Thursday night, Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. officially made his NBA debut. The much-hyped rookie sat out all of last season with a back injury after the Nuggets selected him 14th overall in the 2018 draft, and he stayed on the bench throughout Denver’s first four games this season.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

But with an injury to starter Will Barton, Porter saw the first regular-season playing time of his NBA career. However, he wasn’t too happy after the game, as Denver lost to New Orleans, 122-107.

“It was cool and it was fun, but I was trying to win,” Porter told reporters after the game. “I’m not really in a great mood right now. At the end of the day, it’s amazing to make my NBA debut, I thank the Lord for the opportunity, but I was trying to get a [win].”

Though Denver is one of the youngest and deepest teams in the league, Porter is sure to get more opportunities. He shot 5-of-8 from the floor Thursday, including one 3-pointer, and he was 4-of-6 from the free-throw line.

The debut was a long time coming for the 21-year-old, whom many expected to be a top-three pick in the 2018 draft. Porter was the 2017 McDonald’s All-American Game MVP, Mr. Basketball USA, the Gatorade National Player of the Year and the Naismith Prep Player of the Year, just to name a few accolades. ESPN ranked him as the No. 2 recruit in the nation; Rivals pegged him No. 1.

He went to college at the University of Missouri, where his father, Michael Porter Sr., is an assistant coach. But two minutes into his first game as a collegian, Porter Jr. was taken out because his leg “didn’t feel right.” Ultimately, it was discovered that he had injured his back, which required surgery, and he missed the rest of the regular season. He was later cleared to play, but only appeared in one SEC tournament game and one NCAA Tournament game.

Due to injury concerns, Porter slid down draft boards, and fell into the laps of the Nuggets at No. 14. They felt no need to rush him into action, especially after the 6-foot-10 forward underwent a second spinal surgery in July 2018. Though he said he was pain-free before last season, the Nuggets sat him the whole year to rest and strengthen his body.

Porter sees that time away from the game as a blessing.

“Honestly, God kind of did humble me Himself with the injury,” he said in the Winter 2018 issue of Sports Spectrum Magazine, of which he was on the cover. “Just being honest, I kind of feel like it was a God-thing that I got hurt, because I feel like going into college [as the] No. 1 recruit, and then if I was to go to the League, [possibly a] No. 1 pick, I just feel like I wasn’t ready spiritually to handle it. So it’s like He almost did that for my blessing.

“That’s how I view it now. I used to not view it like this, but I view it now like He did it for a blessing for me so I would have this time and try to mature myself — [go] through a struggle and mature — so when I get back healthy, I’m on top of things.”

Porter later added, “He cares more about my soul than He does about my success in this world. So that’s how I view that right now. I could be the No. 1 recruit, I could be the best player in the NBA, but if I’m not [connected to Him], what’s the point of it all?”

Among the first things Porter did upon arriving in Denver was find a local church, and to defend against the wild and tempting lifestyle that’s prevalent in the NBA, Porter brought out a couple roommates from back home in Missouri.

And he can always rely on the foundation laid for him by his family. Porter’s parents, Michael Sr. and Lisa, met while they both competed for Athletes In Action. They went on to have eight children — Bri, Cierra, Michael Jr., Jontay, Coban, Jevon, Izaak and Jayda — and constantly present Biblical principles to each of them.  

“They just instilled from a young age the importance of Jesus,” Porter Jr. says of his parents.

The 3-2 Nuggets return to action Saturday in Orlando, where Porter hopes to build upon his strong debut and earn more minutes.

MAGAZINE: Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. finds wisdom in waiting
— Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr.: Basketball doesn’t matter as much as relationship with God
— Denver Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. surprises mother with new car
— Michael Porter Jr’s father writes touching letter to son on eve of NBA Draft